This is my 46th year in education. If you add my own thirteen years of K-12, that is 59 years, plus college and grad school makes 64 years. This year I am turning 68, so all but five years of my life have been associated with education.
I’m really living my dad’s life. He was a high school teacher and football coach. My sister was a high school teacher. My mom was a secretary for a superintendent, and I have aunts and uncles who are also teachers. So, I’m in the family business.
I have taught in Ohio, Georgia, and eventually settled down to teach in Florida. In Florida, I had the opportunity to work at different schools each with unique approaches to education.
I gained more experience as a curriculum and discipline principal at the new Frostproof Middle School they were creating at the time. Middle schools were just gaining a foothold in Florida. I decided that I really wanted to teach at Union Academy in Bartow. It was there that I got the chance to be on the ground floor of a magnet school. This was when computers were first coming out, and every student and teacher had access to a computer.
I really had a chance to be creative at that school. We were able to pursue a more high-level curriculum. It was there that I created an eighth-grade internship program where we took students to the school district and county government offices to show them the different jobs. The kids thought it would be a bunch of “old people” sitting around in rocking chairs but were surprised and interested to learn about the variety of jobs the county offered.
After I left the magnet school, I worked in the district office where I helped develop a program where students could view their grades. Later I decided to work at an alternative school to help put kids on a path to graduation, and hopefully more. I have worked as an administrator, teacher, and coach at many public schools; Now I am in my eighth year of teaching at a private school, called Victory Christian Academy.
I had not been really exposed to private schools other than in the context of Catholic Schools near where I grew up. I asked the head of school at Victory if she would hold a science position open for me after I retired. She offered a secondary principal position. I went to look at the school and attended chapel, (a worship service held once a week for students) and it blew me away.
What I knew about private school was mostly stereotypical. I assumed private schools were predominantly for wealthy, white families. After working at Victory for a few weeks, I really noticed how similar it was to a public school. The student body was representative of the diverse environment that is Polk County.
The main differences between Victory and public schools are our inclusion of religion in our curriculum and our ability to adapt to the needs of the students. I loved working in public schools, and they serve their function for so many students. However, I don’t think that all schools can or should function the same way. Not one private, magnet, charter, or traditional public school is going to work for every individual student.
I have found that at Victory, both at the teaching and administrative levels, our school has total control over our curriculum, policies, and classroom management. Trying to figure out what students need is very simple if you are working directly with them. In Florida public schools, the school board and superintendents are often too far removed from the schools to know what they need individually. Instead, each school is treated virtually the same despite each one being different.
The Tax Credit Scholarship is a wonderful blessing for families who qualify. It gives low-income families an opportunity for a private setting if it works for them. I can’t speak for other schools, but at Victory, we have created a setting where it looks like a public school and functions similarly. Our school is accredited by the same agency that accredits public schools.
The American education system began as a way to prepare kids for industrialization. It was not designed to make people smart; it was designed to make them functional. All that has changed, and now we are in an age of information; different skillsets must be nurtured and honed differently.
We live in an America that is supposed to be about opportunity and choices, and that is what this scholarship is providing. Over a lifetime in education, I’ve watched this country change. I have seen it when the civil rights movement came through, through the Vietnam War, through 9/11, and through the Columbine High School shooting. Out of all the things that people have tried to do, the most positive thing I’ve seen is this opportunity for choice.